Sunday, June 14, 2020

How police get away with their crimes

The Guardian, 6/12/20; former prosecutor David Henderson (, OPINION, 6/12/20); NBC News NY; Huff Post; South Park; Ashley Wells, Pat Macpherson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

Qualified immunity is helping police get away with murder — and so are prosecutors
Prosecutor David Henderson
I vividly remember the first time I saw a white woman "Maya," whose name is changed here to protect her privacy, with her two black eyes at the hands of the San Antonio Police Department.

One eye was so beaten, it could no longer open. Responding to a 911 call from a bar that had overserved her, three male police officers allege that Maya had become unruly.

During the arrest, they cuffed her hands, shackled her legs, then delivered multiple bone-breaking blows to her head while straddling her chest.

[Sexual? Vengeful? Sadistic?] The police officers claimed their violence was necessary "for everyone's safety." In 2007, there were no police body cameras to capture the beating. It was her word against theirs.

Here's how police "handle" and lie about an 11-year-old girl at school.
You're free to resign, avoid prosecution, and get hired by other agency.

We have to respect Cartman's authority, or else.
The details are horrifying, and the only reason why we even know them is because Maya is white. Had she been black, like me, things likely would have been even worse.

At the time, I was a young prosecutor at the Bexar County District Attorney's Office in Texas. Police brutality was a regular occurrence. Sadly, years later, it is no better.

Given the normalized culture of violence and the frequency of violent acts on civilians in the police force, Maya's case didn't shock me. Ultimately, no officer was charged. I was left thinking: If the police will do this to a white woman, what will they do to someone who looks like me?

The cases of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many other others we do not know provide a heart-wrenching answer to that question. And in the case of Mr. Floyd, we can watch the answer in a viral video.

I left my job as a prosecutor to become a civil rights lawyer, so I see even more clearly how and why police have exploited legal doctrine and the system to shield themselves from any accountability for criminal acts (felonies) of brutalizing their own neighbors and communities.

"Qualified immunity"
Cops and courts do what?
Police hide behind a nebulous doctrine that protects them from prosecution -- so long as their acts of violence do not violate "clearly established law." What's that?

Qualified immunity -- which is a judicial doctrine not a law, given that it was invented by the Supreme Court -- holds that victims cannot sue police for excessive force if victims can't find a nearly identical case to theirs that previously resulted in prosecution.

[Nearly no cases previously resulted in prosecution, so fewer and fewer will in the future. Is that what the Supreme Court was hoping for?]

Unsure of what that actually means? This ambiguity is the point.

Nationwide protests have for decades (or centuries) demanded justice so that something be done about systemic and, to a lesser degree, interpersonal racism.

(HuffPost) How many times will felons in uniform act with impunity?

Social activists and political leaders are finally drawing attention to this harmful and opaque doctrine that continues to rob victims and their families of justice.

More than 400 civil rights organizations recently urged congressional leaders to end [the fiction of] "qualified immunity" protections, given that it "has been interpreted by courts so broadly that it allows officers to engage in unconstitutional acts with impunity."

It's just for show! We love how policing's done.
One week later, congressional Democrats introduced a bill that would eliminate the doctrine.

This is a significant step forward, but it's only one piece of a complex, multifaceted puzzle that enables and defends police brutality. A comprehensive review and reform of all law enforcement practices, policies and patterns is imperative to reducing -- and eventually eliminating -- police violence.

[They still have a lot more abusing and killing before we get there.]

The universal police attitude is "Comply now, complain later." If an arrested person does not obey any officer's command, regardless of whether the command is illegal or unjustified, police often feel entitled to respond violently and severely, in disproportion to the matter.

Police may say they're sensitive, but isn't it still all about macho culture?

[Perhaps this is why disrespect from blacks and browns and females is dealt with so harshly, as implicit bias, racism, sexism, and machismo come into play.]

The darker a person's skin, the more violently police typically respond. And to compound the problem, officers then get leeway to [falsely] charge arrestees they assault with "resisting arrest."

I witnessed how prosecutors, who routinely work with the police and often have personal relationships with them, are incentivized to aggressively pursue cases where police officers are the accusers and complainants.

Floyd was just the fuse. Police abuse is the TNT
Successful criminal prosecutions nullify civil lawsuits against police, which is what happened in Maya's case. More

ABOUT: David Henderson is a civil rights attorney and former prosecutor who currently lives in Dallas, Texas (Twitter handle @OakCliffLawyer). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and Wisdom Quarterly but not necessarily the original publisher, Newsweek. We stand behind him.

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